This is the question on everyone’s lips as EU Commission President nominee Ursula von der Leyen faces a confirmation vote in the European Parliament on Tuesday (16 July). While some political groups are openly against her, others are divided, for different reasons.
The 60-year-old conservative was designated by EU heads of states and government earlier this month to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission chief.
But she needs to secure a majority in the EU assembly in order to get the job.
The confirmation vote is scheduled to begin at 6:00pm and the result will be announced one-and-a-half to two hours later.
If she fails – and Tuesday’s secret ballot could be close – then Europe faces a summer of institutional infighting between the European Parliament and the 28 EU leaders in the Council. An emergency EU summit would probably have to be convened at the end of the week to find a replacement candidate.
And if her victory is secured thanks to eurosceptic lawmakers, von der Leyen’s position will be weakened even before she takes over as the Commission’s first female leader in November.
The former German defence minister has had barely two weeks to make her case since EU leaders declared her the nominee after a tense three-day summit, casting aside candidates approved by Parliament.
But von der Leyen has responded with a series of written promises to the main centre-right, socialist and liberal blocs that she hopes will get her the necessary 374 votes.
And she announced Monday that she would step down from Angela Merkel’s German government this week whatever happens in the vote, underlining her European ambitions.
What’s already clear is that the Greens and the leftist GUE/NGL groups will not back her. However, other political groups appear divided. And because the vote is a secret ballot, it could still reveal surprises.
Following an internal meeting of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, it became clear that the German SPD would vote firmly against von der Leyen. Among other things, they hold her accountable for “failures” as German defence minister, pointing to a scandal over the awarding of military contracts under her tenure. They also denounced her positions over the rule of law as unclear.
French socialists, for their part, are also sceptical, while the Spanish and Italians lean towards a conditional “yes”. Belgian socialists, meanwhile, say they are pleased with the promises von der Leyen made in her letter to the S&D in the field of environment and sustainable development. And while the Swedes find the letter OK, they are asking for more efforts in the field of migration [More].
Even though von der Leyen is from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Parliament group also appears divided. Parts of the EPP are still bitter that their official candidate Manfred Weber was not nominated for the post. And Polish MEPs are likely to vote down von der Leyen because the EPP failed to secure the chair of the Parliament’s employment committee for Poland’s former Prime Minister Beata Szydło [More].
In Italy, the eurosceptic Lega party and the anti-system Five-Star Movement are likely to support von der Leyen. The two governing parties in Italy don’t want to disavow Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who supported her nomination at a recent EU summit. [More]
‘A small yes’
“It will be a small ‘yes’,” AFP quoted a well-placed European source. “She’ll be elected with fewer votes than Juncker was five years ago.”
The former Luxembourg premier received 422 endorsements, and anything less than 400 would be seen as disappointing for the German veteran minister and mother-of-seven.
The new head of the European Commission is due to take power on 1 November, immediately after the latest deadline for Britain’s departure from the bloc.
He or she will have to manage the Brexit aftermath, Italy shirking its debt targets and efforts by Poland and Hungary to flout the EU-mandated rules of liberal democracy.
For that, the commission president will need a reliable majority in Strasbourg, but May’s elections threw up a more fragmented EU parliament than ever.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]